It’s hard to believe that Nov 9th marks 25 days in Tbilisi! It’s certainly been 3 ½ weeks full of ups and downs. And of course, I promise to blog more frequently now. I think I had what I shall call blog block. Anyway – without further ado… a recap.
I arrived in Tbilisi on Tuesday October 26th. My flight here was fairly uneventful, if you don’t count me nearly missing my flight from JFK to Istanbul thanks to a gate mix-up (completely my fault…). If you’d like to know the secret to getting escorted to the front of the security line, it’s to arrive 5 minutes before your flight is scheduled to depart. Fair warning – that’s generally followed by you sprinting to your gate, haphazardly clutching your shoes/laptop/toiletries since you didn’t have time to repack everything, and possibly sweating profusely depending on gate location, so I don’t entirely recommend this. I guess it depends on how much you hate security lines 🙂 Anyway… other than that, my flight was pretty uneventful.
When I arrived at the Tbilisi airport I made my way through customs and downstairs to baggage claim. I waited and watched the bags come around. I watched and waited, waited and watched. Have your bags every not arrived with you? Then you know the sinking feeling that slowly starts to wash over you – first disbelief (no – I just am not recognizing my bag – check the tags, parr!), then denial (no – there are more coming around, airports are sooo inefficient these days, be patient), and then slight panic (ok check the other carousels, ok there are only two, no other bags). Then complete panic where you start asking the airport officials and then NO!!!! they send you to the lost baggage counter to submit a claim. Welcome to Tbilisi!?!
I’d like to say that I bounced back from this setback quickly. I never considered myself as the type of person to have a lost-bag-related meltdown. It’s just stuff, and I don’t mind wearing the same clothes a few days in a row. I don’t love it, to be clear, but I don’t mind it. I think it was less the delay, and more the prospect that it could really be lost, and thinking about the possibility that I might never get my stuff back. All of the preparation, all of the things I’d so carefully decided I’d need for three months. The medication, the English books, so on and so forth. Plus I had rather stupidly packed my electric converter in my suitcase, so my laptop was dead! I really did have a bit of a meltdown about this.
You’ll be happy to hear that my bag did eventually arrive, and while, even looking back now, it felt like it took days, maybe even a week!, to arrive, it really got there the next day. It felt like the longest day and a half of my life, to tell you the truth!
The rest of my first week in Tbilisi was rather less traumatic. I met the other Kiva fellow, Kevin, who’d been in Tbilisi for the past month. Before arriving in Tbilisi, he spent 6 weeks in Moldova checking in with a Kiva partner there. Kevin and I would be overlapping in Tbilisi for about a month, and I was very excited to know a friendly face.
The hostel where I stayed for my first days in this city was fantastic. A very friendly guy named Giorgi runs Old Town Hostel. He just opened a few weeks ago and is planning to open other hostels in Georgia, both in a ski town and in Batumi by the Black Sea. I plan to visit both! Giorgi’s been great sharing his knowledge of the city and Georgia in general! I felt pretty lucky to book this place.
I also spent quite a bit of time wandering around Old Tbilisi, the neighborhood where my hostel was located. I really love the neighborhood – the buildings are very old and the mix of architecture from various periods is really fascinating. I’ll divide it into three general groups – older buildings from various time periods, drab Soviet style buildings (I hear there’s an official name for these), and then the more modern buildings such as the president’s house or the fancy Dep’t of Internal Affairs.
I visited a few churches, and wandered the botanical gardens as well. I love old churches, so I am really in a great part of the world for it. I do love religious history, so I’ll have a lot of interesting things to learn. Georgia is a very religious country, and one thing I’ve noticed is they cross themselves every time they pass a church, whether walking or driving. I think it’s slightly different from the Catholic sign of the cross, but the same idea.
The city is very busy – both with people bustling around town and the streets full of traffic. Traffic here is insane. I know that this isn’t special to many areas of the world, but after 2+ years of living in orderly San Francisco, I am still constantly shocked by the sheer insanity on the streets. This probably warrants an entire blog post at some point. I feel fairly confident that I need not fear robbers/rapists/wolves, but instead should focus on not getting hit by a car.
The highlight of the week of course was finding housing. I spent the first week in a hostel, but my main goal was finding a more permanent residence. During Kiva training, another fellow put me in touch with his Georgian friend in NYC, who put me in touch with her friend living in Georgia. This guy is the president of AIESEC in Georgia, which is a student business-oriented organization. He reached out to various people on my behalf, and set me up with his friend and colleague who had a cousin willing to host me! So I’ve been set up with a wonderful home stay situation, and it really couldn’t have worked out more perfectly! That Sunday I moved in with my new host family in a neighborhood called Gigomi, which is near the metro stop Didube. I’ll share more information about my Georgian family in the coming weeks.
The next week after arriving in Tbilisi, I started work with VF Credo, the microfinance organization Kevin and I are assigned to work with here. Credo is part of VisionFund (VF), which is part of World Vision, a large international NGO. Their banks are incredibly well run for the most part. I share an office with the Risk Analyst and everyone at the office is incredibly friendly.
My first day of work I took a taxi, since I had no idea where the office was located. I knew I could take either a bus or the metro to get to work, and it would be cheaper, but I didn’t quite know what stop to use. My map didn’t actually seem to include my office’s street so I couldn’t figure out which metro it was near. So a taxi it is. Now taxis here don’t use meters, so you have to negotiate before you get in. I was pretty nervous about this considering I don’t know Georgian, and wasn’t sure if the taxis drivers would know English. I had to adjust my pronunciation of my work street but otherwise it turned out fine. However, what I should have been nervous about was driving in Tbilisi. It is insane. There are no seatbelts. I feared for my life pretty much the entire drive. I did arrive alive though! Hooray! After work, I wandered around a bit until I found the closest metro station and am happy to report that I was able to figure out my route back to the Didube metro station and only needed to ask one person to verify which direction the trains were heading! I am so glad that I’ve lived in cities with subways and am used to them, otherwise I might have been overwhelmed. In case you’re interested, my commute door-to-door takes about 40 minutes. More on that another time.
Since I’m sure you’re curious, I’ll tell you a little bit about what Kevin and I are doing. VF Credo is a brand new partner for Kiva and is in the final stages of approval as a new partner. All new partners go through a pilot stage with Kiva to make sure everything is in good shape. I’ll be supporting them through this pilot stage. So far work is a little slow as we wait for the approval, but I am working on other projects here and there. Everyone at the office is very friendly. I share an office with the Risk Analyst. The housekeeper brings in lunch every day, and you can take a few laris (the local currency is lari) down and pick out what you want. Everyone eats together in the kitchen.
That weekend, I met Kevin and we hiked up this gigantic
hill mountain to a church (half-way up) and a park (at the top). The park is next to the gigantic TV tower that you can see in many of my pictures. We decided to splurge to ride the ferris wheel at the top and it did not disappoint!
My second week of work got off to a slow start. Since my main colleague was going to be out of town with her kids for a few days, I decided to head down to Armenia with Kevin. He’d been planning to head down to Yerevan for a long weekend and invited me to come along. Anyway that’s just a teaser. I’ll write about Armenia in another post since this one is too long and I’d like to post pictures.
So that’s the gist of my first three weeks in the Republic of Georgia – RoGA! (Thanks for the acronym Kirby, you’re always the best at those.)
Please check out my Facebook photo album for more pictures from my first few weeks here!